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My Attic and Upstairs Are Too Cold/Too Hot

Wednesday, January 18th by Iris Doubleday


Your attic can definitely qualify as one of those "out of sight, out of mind" areas of your home. Most homeowners only spend a few moments up there when necessary, so why worry about this largely unused space? The truth is, your attic plays a major role in your home's overall energy performance and can significantly impact how much it costs to keep your living space comfortable. If your attic is too cold in the winter, too hot in the summer, or both, it's time for some necessary home energy improvements.

Why your attic is too cold, and how to make winter more comfortable

When you go up into your attic on a cold winter day, do a few simple steps take you from a comfortable environment to a frigid one? If your attic is too cold, it probably lacks sufficient protection from outside temperatures. According to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), the average unimproved attic has just R-19 insulation – the insulation value of a five and a half inch thick fiberglass batt. The DOE recommends R-49 or better for good energy-efficiency and interior comfort in northern states.

Stack Effect

Wondering why your home feels so drafty and cold? The exfiltration of warm interior air through your attic and the infiltration of cold outside air through your basement or crawl space could be to blame.

Due to your attic's location at the top of your house, it can be a major location for energy loss, especially if you lack sufficient insulation. Heat always moves from warm to cold, so the warmth in your living space can easily make its way through a minimal amount of attic insulation. This energy loss is accelerated by heat's natural tendency to rise to the highest point in a confined space. The same convective pressure that causes a hot air balloon to gain altitude is pushing the warmest air in your house up into your attic through numerous air leaks around electrical outlets, inside walls, around the attic hatchway, and through other gaps and cracks in your home.

Unfortunately, the fiberglass and cellulose insulation used to insulate most attics does little or nothing to stop air movement, so the upward escape of air that you paid to heat will continue. As warm air exits out the top of the house, the negative pressure created by this action sucks cold exterior air in through lower areas of the house –most often through basement and crawl space areas. This occurrence, known as the Stack Effect, is the main culprit in many houses that haven't had energy-saving upgrades.

Air sealing and attic insulation can keep your home warm in the winter

The good news is, there are proven ways to short-circuit the Stack Effect and enjoy conditioned air inside while keeping unconditioned air outside. The first step in this energy-saving upgrade is to have your attic professionally air sealed, maintaining the warm interior air and preventing energy loss. Once air leaks are sealed, additional attic insulation can be added. In most cases, this extra insulation can be applied directly over existing attic insulation. Here at Dr. Energy Saver, we specialize in attic air sealing and insulation that will fix the cold, drafty temperatures in your home so you can live in comfort and save money on your heating bills.

Stay cool in the summer! Overcome the hot attic effect with the right home improvements

Even if your attic is too cold in the winter, it's likely that the temperature inside your attic will still be higher than the temperature outside during summer months. Roof shingles absorb a great deal of the sun's heat, especially if they're dark in color. That heat is transferred directly to the roof sheathing and rafters, which continually radiate heat to the attic. The warmer the attic becomes, the more difficult it is to keep a comfortable living space.

Unless your home has the proper protection, your air conditioning system will have to work long and hard to overcome the effect of a hot attic. In fact, in order to keep upstairs rooms sufficiently cool, it's often necessary to make downstairs rooms uncomfortably cold. Before you resign yourself to costly energy bills or an uncomfortable home, keep reading to learn how you can protect your living space from the effects of a hot attic.

Insulation – most attics don't have enough

Attic insulation from Dr. Energy Saver

Once again, it comes down to your attic insulation. Since most houses have attic insulation that is inadequate and poorly installed, the comfort and energy-efficiency of your home can suffer in both winter and summer. With only minimal levels of insulation and areas where insulation is missing, attic heat can turn ceiling drywall into a giant radiator that makes upstairs rooms uncomfortably hot. By upgrading your insulation, you can save energy and improve interior comfort year-round.

Attic ductwork – leaky, uninsulated ducts turn cool air warm

Sealed attic ducts from Dr. Energy Saver

Many attics contain ductwork that supplies cool air to upstairs rooms during the summer and heated air during the winter. If the joints in your ductwork are not properly sealed, your forced air system can suck attic air into the ducts –air that's either really hot in the summer or really cold in the winter. If the ducts aren't insulated, the ductwork will be at the same temperature as the attic, warming your cool air supply during the summer and cooling your heated air in the winter. By sealing and insulating your attic ductwork, you can solve these problems and maintain interior comfort in your home.

Ventilation – attic fans can do more harm than good

Attic ventilation from Dr. Energy Saver

You would think that an attic fan, sometimes called a powered attic ventilator or PAV, would keep the attic space cooler by exhausting hot air. A PAV does indeed blow hot air out of the attic, but unfortunately it also sucks cool air from your living space into the attic through leaks in walls and ceilings. As a result, the interior air you paid to cool is actually cooling off your attic rather than your living space. A better way to exhaust hot air from the attic is by "passive" ventilation through a combination of soffit, ridge, and gable vents.

Radiant barrier – an inexpensive heat shield can turn down attic temperatures

SuperAttic system from Dr. Energy Saver

The shiny heat shield that goes inside a car's windshield to prevent the auto's interior from overheating is a smaller version of the radiant barrier than can be installed in an attic. In the form of a thin plastic sheet or a spray-on coating, an attic radiant barrier reflects solar heat to limit heat build-up in the attic. Dr. Energy Saver's SuperAttic system combines air sealing and attic insulation through the use of rigid foam insulation panels. These insulation panels create a continuous radiant barrier directly beneath the attic roof, the perfect solution for homeowners looking to reduce heating and cooling costs.

Are you ready to make your home more comfortable and save money on your energy bills? Find your local Dr. Energy Saver dealer today to find out more about attic insulation, air sealing, home energy improvements, and more!

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